Friday, September 7, 2018

Furman freshman QB set to start at Elon

Furman freshman quarterback Darren Grainger and receiver Ryan DeLuca
(83) celebrate after a touchdown at Clemson. Photo courtesy of Furman
When Furman travels to Elon Saturday, a freshman is expected to earn his first career start for the Paladins. As to who that will exactly be is still up in the air. Redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln and true freshman Darren Grainger are listed as the starter with the "or" designation between them on this week's depth chart.

Senior captain Harris Roberts, who earned his first career start in last Saturday's season opener at Clemson, is listed third and freshman Hamp Sisson fourth. Roberts made the start last Saturday, but it was clear he was not fully recovered from a hand injury suffered in the preseason. After three handoffs on Furman's opening possession, Roberts left and Lincoln and Grainger rotated possessions for the rest of the game.

"We'd made the decision to play the other two guys most of the game because Harris wasn't 100 percent," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said after Saturday's game. "I'm really proud of those two freshman quarterbacks. ... They made some mistakes, but I don't know if they'll ever be in a tougher situation. They didn't get a lot of help.
"Right now, we've got two (healthy) guys that we feel good about. We've just got to find out what they can execute. ... I'm fired up about them."

Using Clemson as a measuring stick for two quarterbacks who'd never previously taken a college snap probably isn't the most fair idea. Both Lincoln and Grainger had some good moments Saturday though. On Lincoln's third play, he converted a 3rd-and-13 with a 20-yard run. That was the second-longest run of the day for the Paladins behind Deon Sanders' 45-yard scamper.

Furman freshman JeMar Lincoln runs against
Clemson. Photo courtesy of Furman
As a team, Furman rushed for 117 yards Saturday - including a 30-yard loss on a high snap. While it's nothing to celebrate, that total is higher than the 114.9 average rushing yards per game Clemson allowed last season. After fumbling in the red zone on a fourth quarter drive, Grainger responded on the next drive with Furman's lone score as he hit Ryan DeLuca on a 16-yard touchdown with 1:18 left to play.

"I told coach I was going to make up for (the fumble)," Grainger said afterwards. "We had a wide open man and I just gave him the ball."

Grainger was a wide receiver at Conway High before switching to quarterback last season. Going from playing in front of high school crowds last year to making his collegiate debut in front of 80,000 fans was quite an experience.

"It was a great experience to be a part of," Grainger said. "They gave me an opportunity to play and I just tried to make the best of it."

Atkins solid in larger role
Outside of one errant punt, sophomore kicker Grayson Atkins was solid in his expanded role of punting and handling kickoffs. Atkins opened the game by booting the kickoff through the back of the end zone for a touchback. His lone other kickoff also reached the end zone. Atkins averaged 42.1 yards on eight punts with a long of 53. Three of his punts were downed or went out of bounds at the Clemson 5-, 11- and 8-yard line, respectively.

"He's a veteran now, so I expect him to do well," Hendrix said. "It was his first time punting though and he did well."

Round three at Elon
When Furman plays at Elon Saturday at 6 p.m., it will be the third matchup between the schools in the past year. Based on the first two games, Saturday could provide fans with another thriller.

Last Sept. 9 at Paladin Stadium, a late field goal helped the Phoenix pull out a 34-31 win. In addition to the sting of losing in heartbreaking fashion, Furman was also faced with losing at home to a team that had gone 2-9 in 2016.

As it turns out, last year's regular season meeting was a pairing of two teams both in store for turnaround seasons. Furman avenged that loss in the opening round of the FCS playoffs as the Paladins held on for a 28-27 win at Elon.

Elon opened this season with a 34-14 loss at FBS member South Florida last Saturday. The Phoenix, who return 18 starters this season, are ranked No. 15 in both the STATS and Coaches' FCS polls. Furman is No. 21 in the STATS poll, and No. 25 in the Coaches.

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